July 30, 2011
Out with the Young, In with the Old
The Orioles were not going to get much in return for the aging veteran, but at least Baker brings some power into a system that is desperate for it. An 11th-round pick in 2009 out of Oklahoma, Baker has plus raw power, and maybe a bit more—15 home runs in the Florida State League are nothing to sneeze at—and a decent approach. That's also the sum of his skills, and as good as Baker’s raw power is, he's a 23-year-old playing at High-A. Like many fringy first-base prospects, Baker is big and slow, and lefties with breaking balls give him troubles. He's an organizational player who could be hitting 25-plus home runs for some random Triple-A team five years from now, or maybe in Japan.—Kevin Goldstein
Acquired 1B-R Derrek Lee from the Orioles for 1B-L Aaron Baker. [7/30]
Sing it loud, sing it proud: the Pirates are officially buyers, acquiring another team’s aging veteran at the deadline instead of offloading their own. As I wrote last Tuesday, “It’s difficult to board the Pirates’ bandwagon with any expectation of arriving at a desirable destination when one of the horses expected to pull the load at a premium offensive position is Lyle Overbay, who only twice in his career—most recently five seasons ago—could be said to be something more than a league-average player and now appears to have left even that modest distinction far behind.” Steven Pearce wasn’t the answer, either, so with first place in the NL Central just a game and a half away, the Pirates have plundered the Orioles’ roster for Derrek Lee.
On the surface, Lee hasn’t been much better with the bat than Overbay this season, but he is a better bet going forward. Not only does he have the superior track record, but he’s come alive of late, hitting six homers in July and amassing a .366/.422/.707 line over the last two weeks after a miserable start to the season marked by offensive inadequacy and a merciful oblique strain. It’s still not safe to board the Pirates’ bandwagon—before the trade, Pittsburgh had a 2.5 percent chance to reach the playoffs, and replacing a first baseman projected for a .259 rest-of-season TAv with one expected to reach .283 won’t move that needle much—but in this case, it’s the name recognition that counts. The negligible impact on the Pirates’ playoff odds is almost immaterial.
By making a move for a veteran, however unlikely to open the gates to October, the Pirates kept the faith with their fans, rewarding them for appearing at PNC Park in greater numbers in the wake of the team’s return to contention. As Rob Neyer observed in a BP guest piece last week, Pittsburgh’s brass was faced with a choice between defensible penny-pinching and gaining goodwill. They went with the latter, and while that goodwill comes at the cost of the remainder of Lee’s $7.25 million salary for this season, the Pirates could recoup their investment and then some if their fans remember the gesture when the organization finally fields a team capable of making good on its mid-season promise.—Ben Lindbergh
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus.